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It’s increasingly recognized that while large parts of the of populations of the US (and other Western countries) are aware of climate change and accept that human action contributes to it only little behavioural change can be observed. People continue with their lives as usual although knowing their actions contribute to climate change.

“Although a poll by the Pew Research Center last October found that 67 percent of Americans believe that global warming is happening, a Pew poll in January showed that Americans ranked global warming as 19th on a list of 20 issues for Congress and the president.” (NYT-19 March 2014)

President Obama now has launched the development of a website that is designed to make visible to people the impact of climate change locally, in their citie  and neighborhoods. The New York Times reported on this development in its Science Section “Obama Turns to Web to Illustrate the Effects of a Changing Climate” and cites the motivation behind the campaign as “building a political case for the climate rules, both by defusing the opposition and by trying to create an urgent sense among Americans that they are necessary”.

Gail Markle’s recent article “Accounting for the Performance of Environmentally Significant Behavior: The Symbolic Significance of Recycling” published in Symbolic Interaction addresses this very same issue. Markle investigates why people consider recycling as a sufficient action to help the environment although being aware of the impact their consumption habits and life-style have on the environment.

A related campaign to use the Internet to raise awareness for ethics and ethical action has recently been launched by Andrea Prothero, Associate Professor at University College Dublin. The Facebook Group Talk About Ethics was launched a couple of weeks ago and encourages its members to take pictures of themselves stating why ‘talking about ethics’ is important.

Over the past few weeks an article by Nick Bilton in the New York Times has raised not only eyebrows but also concerns that the journalist may have gone a little far with his argument to abandon commonly accepted and taken for granted ‘rules of conduct’ and courtesy rituals when using technology. Bilton’s article has received more than 500 comments to some of which he has curteously responded and various journalists, writers and academics, including Nick Carr and Evan Selinger, have written pieces addressing some of the issues raised in his piece. Many of the comments and associated pieces call into question Bilton’s main argument that common forms of etiquette are inefficient and a waste of our time.

The debate reflects a growing uneasiness and uncertainty on the “proper” or “acceptable” use of technology in social occasions. In her film Connected Tiffany Shlain recalls a situation with a friend she had not seen for a long time when the urge to check her phone for new messages was so overwhelming that she apologized herself to the toilet just to update herself on the going-ons elsewhere in the world.

The situation Shlain describes is symptomatic for the uneasiness in the use of technology when in social situations. Whilst in some situations it is acceptable to occasionally glance at the phone in others it is not or it is not clear whether or not it is acceptable. A solution to deal with the situation then is to use techniques or methods like ‘an apology from the table’ and temporarily leave the situation. Thus, the sociability and intimacy of the situation is left intact whilst it becomes possible to use the phone away from the table. The deployment of these techniques also reveals that the leave taking from the table is an accountable action and that not all accounts will do as a satisfying explanation for leaving the table. For example, going to the toilet is acceptable whilst saying you want to check your Facebook Wall for updates in press less so.

In other situations, people unproblematically use their phones while with another person. For example, it is quite common for people sitting at a coffee table to pick up the phone and receive or make calls. Over time methods have been developed that allow people to use a cell phone in these situations. For example, when a cell phone rings at a coffee table where two friends converse the call-taker apologies her/himself while picking up the phone and taking the call. The friend then becomes a third-party to the phone conversation and often provides the call-taker privacy by excusing her/himself (e.g. to the toilet) or by engaging in other activities, such as checking her/his own phone, picking up a newspaper or book, or by looking in the distance  (Humphreys 2005). This does not mean, of course that the friend might not feel undermined or undervalued in the situation, in particular when the phone keeps on ringing and interrupting the face-to-face interaction. Hence, in such situations we sometimes decide to switch the phone off and eliminate this influence from the face encounter.

By and large, people nowadays are familiar with the ubiquitiousness of technology. They employ methods that allow them to use technology and at the same time to limit or sanction its use, depending on situational circumstances. They also create situations that are marked by new rules, such as the  “no phones at the dinner table” rule or the “techno shabbath” that ban technology from situations for longer periods. Arguments about the use of  technologies in situations arise relatively rarely and mostly with those who are not familiar with or not adhering to these rules and social conventions.1 For example, children like Evan Selinger’s daughter are being socialized into the use of technology and its fitting within different social contexts.

With regard to email that has been around for considerable time now and that features particularly prominently in Bilton’s NYT piece social conventions have been developed and are deployed on a day-to-day basis. As with the use of other technologies, such as cell phones, mobile game consoles etc., these conventions and rules are not fixed and followed but contingently drawn on and referred to when the acceptability of their use is questioned or challenged. I would presume that Bilton’s efficiency rule with regard to courtesy conduct in email has long been deployed, in certain situations when time was tight. Such conduct that uses efficiency as an account for the withholding of an act of courtesy however also can be detrimental to the very purpose of its accomplishment, e.g. the withholding of a “thank you” in receipt of an email. Most of us probably have encountered situations when the withholding of a simple “thank you” note in response to an email has occasioned an exchange by email or over the phone to confirm the receipt of an email; a “thank you” note in response to the original email would have been much more efficient than its withholding.

How we conduct ourselves and how we refer to and draw on social conventions or etiquettes comes down to the specifics of the situation in which we find ourselves when using technology and to our competencies to conduct ourselves in specific circumstances. The artificial general abandoning of courtesy action by virtue of some kind of rule set by the Biltons of this world would be non-sensical; and Nick Bilton would probably agree with this. Instead, we all gradually adapt our acquired social competencies to the pervasiveness of technology in situations, thereby embedding technology within our lives and those we live with. And as parents we are responsible for providing our children with the knowledge and skills that allow them to act and be seen as acting, competently in technology-rich situations.

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Footnotes

1 With regard to social conventions in “Technolosocial Situations” see also Mizuko Ito‘s research and Tricia Wang‘s work.

When I tweeted a review of Andreas Glaeser’s book yesterday that I had read on orgtheory.net a friend retweeted the post and added that “it’s only $8.55 on kindle”. Since I new the book was priced at £18.17 on amazon.co.uk I looked up the amazon.com site with my iPhone and noticed that it showed me a price of $29.10.

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When arriving home I checked the book on my laptop and found a difference in price when I looked into the amazon.com site from when I was not logged in.

When logged into Amazon.com the price was $29.10.

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When I log out of my account and search for the book again, the price goes down to $8.55.

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This observation points wither to personalized pricing or to big differences in geographical pricing of books and probably other items. In any case it reminds me of the advice that Eli Pariser gives in his book an on his website The Filter Bubble, clean your cookies.

Ilicco Elia, Head of Consumer Mobile, Reuters Media, gave a lecture as part of my module “Marketing and New Technologies” (MSc International Marketing) at King’s College London. Ilicco who has been working at Reuters since 1993 and at Reuters Mobile for the past 6 years, highlighted the increasing difficulty for media companies to retain their integrity whilst reporting news as they emerge.

Reuters are a news agency that over the decades has built up an image and a brand that stands for trust and integrity in news reporting. It now is confronted with the pressure that their customers Reuters to deliver up-to-date accurate information about events as and when they happen. Therefore, Reuters use about 2500 journalists to gather, edit and disseminate news to a global audience. These journalists use mobile technology, including networked high-end cameras, camera phones, mobile phones, laptops, etc, to gather information (pictures, videos, text, …) and immediately send it to the editor in the London office who produces news items that are disseminated across the various Reuters distribution channels. Illico illustrated the process by referring to the Football World Cup 2010 when pictures taken by journalists in South Africa appeared on Reuters mobile seconds after they had been taken. On the next day, the same pictures were published in newspapers around the world.

The immediacy that people increasingly demand from news organisations is driven by the growing pervasiveness of consumer mobile technology, such as mobile telephones, laptops and tablet computers. It is not sufficient anymore that Reuters disseminate news via its website but they have to develop applications, ‘apps’, that run on a range of different mobile devices and systems. Based on the opportunities offered by the iPhone and Blackberry phones Reuters created applications that deliver news through different kinds of mobile device. For example, Reuters New Pro, Reuters Mobile Website and Reuters RSS deliver global news to customers who are on the move; and Reuters Galleries exhibit the best photographs taken by Reuters correspondents around the word.

Ilicco highlighted the profound changes to journalism that have been initated by the wide distribution of mobile technology to consumers. It not only influences the consumption of news, everywhere and at any time but also the organisation of news production, editing and disemination. The scope of these changes is just becoming visible in the editorial offices but little is known of the emerging practices of news consumption.

The new technologies also facilitate new forms of journalism. In recent years, citizen journalism and the contribution of news by consumers in others ways has become more and more popular with many news organisations. This seems to be a dangerous path for organisations like Reuters that have built their brand on the integrity and authenticity of their news. News and information delivered by people other than Reuter’s journalists are difficult to assess in their truthfulness and authenticity. Similar, it can sometimes be difficult for news organisations to hold on and evaluate information before disseminating it, as competitors may push forward with the distribution of an item. Examples of the speedy dissemination of wrongful news are manifold. The Guardian for example pressed forward with repeatedly reporting that Nokia Smartphones would soon be running Google’s Android operating system. As we now know Nokia have entered a close collaboration with Microsoft, rather than Google.

The ease of diseminating news is a tempting for news organisations as for mobile users. By clicking on a few buttons a news item with (maybe incorrect) information, can be shared with friends and followers on social networks. The sharing of wrong news by mobile users can badly reflect on their image in the ‘twitterverse’. As Rob Wilmot highlighted in an earlier guest lecture in the same module in January, ‘trust’ is difficult to gain but easily lost in social media. And this valid for businesses and organisation as well as for individuals.

Ilicco Elia in the News

Media Guardia 100

NMA Portrait (£)

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